Dangerous myths surrounding 9/11 attacks - GulfToday

Dangerous myths surrounding 9/11 attacks

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden participate in a wreath ceremony on the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks at the Pentagon in Washington on Saturday. Associated Press

The September 11th, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington have inspired dangerous myths which have driven the never-ending “war on terrorism,” destroyed several countries in the Wider Middle East, and created an explosion of refugees seeking safety and asylum.

The first myth is that the US was innocent of all wrong-doing. Since World War II, the US has been intervening in the affairs of countries in this region. In 1947-48, Washington lent its support to the establishment in Palestine of Israel, creating a casus belli for Arabs and Muslims.

The US mounted coups in Syria in 1949 and Iran in 1953 and continues to interfere in regional affairs, generally to the detriment of the peoples of this region, causing anger and resentment.

In 1979, in the waning years of the Cold War, the US backed Afghan mujahedin seeking to drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) provided them with money and arms and appealed for Muslim countries to send volunteers to join the battle for this country.

Among the recruits was Osama Bin Laden. In 1983, US President Ronald Reagan welcomed mujahedin leaders at the White House and in 1986 the CIA delivered shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahedin, transforming the course of the conflict. In 1989, Soviet troops left Afghanistan and in 1992 rival mujahedin forces launched a civil war. It was won in 1996 by the Taliban which became the ally and protector of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. By that time, Bin Laden had become an enemy of the US due to the 1991 war on Iraq waged by President George H.W. Bush.

The second myth was that the US was invulnerable to attack by outsiders. Until 2001, Al Qaeda-staged strikes on US forces and interests had taken place outside the continental US which had not sustained a major attack by a foreign power or entity since the war with Britain in 1812. The third myth was that Washington was not forewarned of Bin Laden’s intention of mounting a major attack on the US. This was patently untrue. In 1993, a group of radicals not directly connected with Al Qaeda attempted to blow up one of the World Trade Centre towers with a lorry bomb which was driven into the basement and detonated, killing six people and wounding 1,042.

Co-conspirator Ramzi Yousef is believed to be the nephew of Khaled Shaikh Mohammed who is accused by the US of being the mastermind of the September 11th attacks.

Yousef’s motive was US military support for Israel and intervention in the domestic affairs of countries in this region. He subsequently planned operations involving US and other civilian airliners. Bin Laden indicated in 1997 and 1998 US television interviews that his followers would follow Yousef’s example and “bring the fighting to America.”

Before the September 11th attacks, the George W. Bush administration had ample warnings of Al Qaeda’s plan to hijack US airliners although time and place were not identified. At least two reports of suspects training on airliners were transmitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s headquarters in Washington but no arrests were made. One of the men was involved in the deadly operation, the other failed to join. On August 6th, 36 days before the strikes, Bush received a memo on the threats in his daily briefing but no action was taken.

The fourth myth involved spin over the motive for the attacks. The hijackers were driven by Yousef’s motive for the original World Trade tower operation and a determination to shock the US into stop backing Israel. This was not mentioned by officials, politicians and commentators who claimed that the attackers “hated” the US for its “freedom and democracy.” If Bin Laden’s motives had been publicised, the US government might have altered its anti-Arab policies.

The fifth myth held that citizens of the deeply divided US were united in shock and sorrow by the strikes. However, a few seeking revenge responded with assaults on Muslims or individuals believed to be Muslims while millions regarded Arabs and Muslims as enemies of the state. On September 15th, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh who had immigrated from India, was shot to death in Arizona because he had a beard and wore a turban. He was the first to die. Hate crimes soared by 1600 per cent over 2000 and have remained higher than previous levels. Muslims have also been profiled, spied upon and harassed by law enforcement.

The sixth and final myth was based on the false accusation by the Bush administration that Iraq harboured Al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction. These lies were intended as justification for the 2003 US invasion and occupation of that country and the destabilisation of this entire region.

The aim of the neo-conservatives behind both Bush’s Afghan and Iraq wars was to make the US the supreme military power in both the Indian Sub-continent and this region. Unintended consequences have intervened and destroyed this ambition. In Afghanistan, the US-backed government never managed to extend its rule over more than 40 per cent of the country. The Taliban lurked in the countryside and mountains and has now reasserted its control. According to commentator Ali Soufan, Al Qaeda, which had 400 members in 2001, now has 40,000 across the world. Furthermore, Al Qaeda’s progeny, Daesh and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, and other radical factions have tens of thousands of adherents. Bush’s “war on terrorism” continues on many fronts.

In Iraq, his administration planted a regime dominated by Shia fundamentalists loyal to Tehran, Washington’s main rival and antagonist in this region. Daesh seized and held about 40 per cent of Iraqi territory until its territorial “caliphate” was defeated and disbanded in 2019. But, Daesh fugitives have regrouped and continue to attack targets in Syria and Iraq. The latter is struggling to regain independence and arrest collapse into a failed state.

In the wake of Al Qaeda’s attacks, governments round the world rallied behind the US which has squandered the sympathy and support it enjoyed then. US presidents disappointed. Bush was shamed for the Iraq war. The first president of African descent, Barack Obama, did little for members of his marginalised and persecuted community while fuelling civil war in Syria and failing to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Donald Trump deepened divisions within the US, antagonised US allies and undermined trust in the US, the chief global power. Joe Biden has boosted rather than overcome the divisions between Republicans and Democrats and failed to contain Covid and conduct an honourable exit from Afghanistan.

The US, which sought to inculcate democracy outside its borders, has given up on this mission while its own democratic system is under challenge from right-wingers who believe another set of dangerous myths peddled by Trump and his cynical enablers.

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